But why would any student spend tens of thousands of dollars and, rather than see the world in all its aspects, instead spend his time being indoctrinated and immersed in the prejudices of the current culture and the opinions of his tendentious professors? The job of teachers is to liberate minds, not capture them.
Reform at the university level will require brave work by deans and presidents. A hundred-course set of “distribution requirements” with minimally guided choice fosters intellectual randomness. Instead, the best faculty should put together a coherent program of core studies to introduce students to the finest books, to alternative answers to the most compelling questions, to great literature and art and pivotal historical events. Contemporary political issues of race, class and gender do not define what’s truly important. That’s the greatest fallacy of higher education today.
John Agresto, The Suicide of the Liberal Arts – WSJ.
We forget sometimes (or are uncomfortable in saying) that the humanities are at root about questions of value: what it means to lead a good life or how to build a just society. Toynbee never forgot. Articulate and combative, he understood that humanistic inquiry is a moral enterprise, an unfinished project of exploration and improvement. And he knew that humanists must be crusaders, that their strength lies in their capacity (and willingness) to confront members of the public with hard questions about themselves.
Ian Beacock, in Why we need Arnold Toynbee’s good life – Ian Beacock – Aeon.
Nicholas Kristof begins by quoting E. O. Wilson’s observation that “we are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” T. S. Eliot offered a similar formulation of the relationship between wisdom and information in his poem “Choruses From ‘The Rock’ ”:
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Mr. Kristof’s point that knowledge of great literature cultivates the wisdom necessary to sustain our essential humanity finds its perfect embodiment in Eliot’s lines.
William Wadsworth, letter to the editor, in Studying the Humanities – NYTimes.com.
Only the actual materials will sustain the humanities, but we have to believe in them enough to say so. We need more conviction than this. We need to be able to say to incoming students, “In this course, you are going to encounter words and images and ideas that are going to change your life. We’ve got Hamlet and Lear, Achilles and David, Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Bennett, Augustine’s pears and Van Gogh’s stars—beauty and sublimity and truth. If you miss them, you will not be the person you could be.”
Mark Bauerlein, in Why Are the Humanities Deteriorating? | First Things.
This, apparently, is how you achieve consilience: by pretending that artists are scientists in disguise.
via William Deresiewicz, ‘Jane Austen, Game Theorist’ by Michael Suk-Young Chwe Is a Joke | New Republic.
Many academics find the attacks on the humanities confusing. “I’ve been working in the humanities for close to 40 years, and I don’t remember a time in which there wasn’t some degree of ridicule for our projects,” Ms. Feal said. “This continues to puzzle me, because we don’t hear parallel criticisms of projects in the sciences whose terminology and focus are also unintelligible to nonspecialists, and whose utility may not make itself apparent to a general public.”
“People must think about the contribution the humanities make to the world and society,” Professor Bhabha said. “If you consider the value of the humanities to the cultural sector, for example, I don’t think people can make the rather closed-minded arguments that they make about the utility of the humanities and its contributions.”
“The humanities raise issues about equity and well-being,” he said. “They raise issues about the quality of life. These issues are at the heart of the sciences, social sciences, and business and technology.”
via Humanities Studies Under Strain Around the Globe – NYTimes.com.
The academy sets aside the humanities for the sciences because of a pre-imposed philosophical approach. To embrace materialism, as Dr. Ronald McArthur has noted in a speech at Thomas Aquinas College, is to embrace “nihilism. That means nobody knows anything. It doesn’t matter whether you affirm something or deny something….Education then turns to the practical…There is hardly any education that is ordered, institutionally, to anything that is sound intellectually.”
Marina Olson, via The Humanities in Our Strange and Wonderful World | The American Conservative.
Just after the war Auden visited Harvard to read a poem to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. One of the dominant figures of American culture at that time was James Bryant Conant, Harvard’s president, who, captured by the techno-utopian mood of the war years, was striving to modernize the university and transform it into a research powerhouse focused on science and technology. In so doing he emphasized the humanities, especially the classics, far less than Harvard had done through much of its history. Auden told Alan Ansen, “When I was delivering my Phi Beta Kappa poem in Cambridge, I met Conant for about five minutes. ‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself. And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”
via Text Patterns: Audens two cheers for democracy.
A humanistic education cultivates not only the ability to absorb humanistic content, but also the capacity to hear the resonances between one text and another—or to combine disparate texts and ideas in such a way as to create new resonances. It is a capacity that Christians cultivate in practice of worship. We read portions of the Hebrew Bible alongside portions of the New Testament; we set down the needs of the world alongside the verses of a psalm; we lift up the prayer of one worshiper alongside the prayer of another. These texts reach us in the varied circumstances of our lives and, through the many ways they are combined in worship, help us to find new meaning in ancient words.
via Stephanie Paulsell, Christian humanists | The Christian Century.
Do not believe the rumors of the obsolescence of your path. If Proust was a neuroscientist, then you have no urgent need of neuroscience, because you have Proust. If Jane Austen was a game theorist, then you have no reason to defect to game theory, because you have Austen. There is no greater bulwark against the twittering acceleration of American consciousness than the encounter with a work of art, and the experience of a text or an image. You are the representatives, the saving remnants, of that encounter and that experience, and of the serious study of that encounter and that experience – which is to say, you are the counterculture. Perhaps culture is now the counterculture.
via Leon Wieseltier Commencement Speech at Brandeis University 2013 | New Republic.